A 6″ Dob for Young Relatives

I just finished a 6″ f/8 Dobsonian telescope as a gift for my great-nephews, one of whom I discovered is VERY interested in astronomy and happens to live in a place with pretty dark skies – about the middle of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The mirror is excellent, and the mechanical parts all work very well — in my opinion. Let’s see what the recipients think.

I finally succeeded in putting in the mirror yesterday afternoon in a very stiff and cold wind right outside my house, estimating where the mirror should go by aiming at a distant chimney. This takes patience because it’s trial-and-error, no matter how much you calculate beforehand!

Later that evening, after the nearly-full Blue Moon came over the trees at DC’s Chevy Chase Community Center where we have our telescope-making classes, fellow ATMer and all-around interesting person Jim Kaiser helped me collimate it by pointing the scope at the illuminated curtains in the windows of the CCCC. We then verified that the Moon actually did come to a focus with the eyepiece nearly all the way screwed in. If you want to focus on closer things than the Moon or galaxies, you need to screw the eyepiece out towards you, the observer in the cheap but effective helical focuser that was lying around the shop.

This scope incorporates a couple of innovations by me, and a bit of artistic whimsy.

First small innovation: I made the secondary diagonal mirror holder so that no tools are needed at all: you just rotate the part holding the elliptical mirror and turn a little thumbscrew to collimate it quickly and easily, while you watch. Here is a sketch of how I made it.new type of secondary holder


Second innovation can be seen near my right hand (to your left) atop the cradle: two 1/4″-20 machine screws with simple homemade knobs on top, going through threaded inserts (T-nuts would work too), which push against a piece of lumber in the shape of prism with an isosceles right triangle at each end. I call this the tube brake, which can be applied or released quite easily, whenever needed. Small springs (almost impossible to see in this photo) pull this brake up against the corner of the tube, while the machine screws press it down. If you want to change the position of the eyepiece because a taller or shorter person has arrived, no problem. A few CCW turns of the wooden knobs releases the brake, you rotate the tube to the desired position, and then you lock it down again with a few clockwise turns. If you add or remove a heavy eyepiece or a finder or whatever, same procedure, except this time you can slide the scope up and down inside the cradle.

The artistic whimsy is partly seen in a photo Jim took of me after we got it collimated but before we rushed back inside: lots of colors, thanks to several tons of paint cans salvaged by fellow ATMer Bill Rohrer from being thrown away by a third party who lost his warehouse lease, and also because smurf blue is the favorite color of one of the boys. The altitude bearing is made out of the Corian countertop that my wife and I got rid of a few months ago when we had our kitchen remodeled. (30 years ago we did it ourselves, mostly. This time we hired professionals. They are SOO much faster and better at this than us!)

So that my young relatives can keep this thing looking good, they also get four or five quart or pint cans of paint – the ones I used on the scope. Free, of course. The more we get rid of put to use, the better. They can repaint anything that gets scratched, you see?IMG_9416

You can also see some wood-cutting fun above and below. This retired geometry teacher had a lot of fun figuring out how to lay out and cut out stars with 5, 6, and 7 points, as well as a crescent moon and a representation of Saturn seen with its rings edge-on. I guess you could show Saturn’s rings a 30 to 45 degrees to the viewer, if you instead carved it out of solid wood or did wood burning, but I just had a hand-held jigsaw and a Dremel knockoff. And plus, this is supposed to be a scope that is USED rather than just admired for its artsy parts.

I designed what I wanted onto two sheets of paper and then taped them to the plywood. This worked, but it wasn’t the most wonderful plywood, so on many of the pull strokes, the wood splintered a bit. So that side got to face inside.. Painting all those little nooks and crannies was tough!

design artsy astro cutouts

(The purpose of the cut-outs was simply to make the telescope lighter. It’s got a very heavy and sturdy base. Each square inch of plywood removed saves about 7 grams. Also, more holes means more hand-holds!)




Under-corrected Commercial Mirrors

I have tested three different Newtonian mirrors from 12″ to 16″ diameter over the past few years that were labeled as being by Meade. One had been refigured by someone else before I tested it.

Each of the mirrors initially looked nice and smooth, and the Ronchigrams looked pretty close to the theoretically-perfect image generated by RonWin or similar software.

However, when I did a zonal test, in every single case, the mirror turned out to be seriously under-corrected, in some cases by about 50%. In other words, if a perfect mirror should have the outer zone (say the outer inch) to “null out” at 0.236″ from the location where the central zone nulls out, then the mirrors I tested might null out at only 0.118″ instead.

I took care to repeat the measurements several times in each of these cases, and in one case the owner also took a set of readings; his and mine agreed pretty closely.

I don’t know if it’s my skills at reading Foucault/Couder shadow zones that are suspect, or if I’m correct. Anybody else have similar or opposite stories or experiences?

Make your own telescope!


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This weekend, I’m hosting a small workshop at the Community Museum in Gaithersburg, MD, where interested persons from 8 to 88 years of age can make their own telescope in an hour or two. We will be using surplus but high-quality achromatic primary doublet lenses as well as inexpensive eyepieces, along with PVC tubing and some really cool tripods to hold it steady.  We will some basic optics experiments to help explain how these gizmos work, and will have spray paint and colored tape to decorate the tubes.

If you are interested, here is the necessary information:


Gaithersburg Community Museum's photo.

Make Your Own Telescope


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Make your own refracting telescope in just an afternoon! This workshop will be led by veteran DC amateur telescope-maker Guy Brandenburg. He will show you how to make a small functioning telescope that can either be held in your hands or mounted on almost any camera tripod. All of the materials needed will be provided, and no experience is necessary. This workshop is open to anyone from the ages of 9 through 99, but a parent would need to accompany any child from 9 – 11. You might get a little dirty, so don’t wear your best clothing!

You will also see how various types of telescopes such as reflectors, refractors, and catadioptrics are put together and operate, using actual examples, including the type made and used by Galileo around 1609.

$30 City of Gaithersburg residents/$35 non-residents. Space is limited to 15 so pre-registration is required. To register go to RecXpress at https://online.activenetwork.com/gaithersburg/Start/Start.asp. It’s activity #49690.

For more information or if you have trouble registering call the museum at 301-258-6160 or museum@gaithersburgmd.gov


Is This A Sketch of the Evolution of Galaxies Over Time?

The answer is, of course, no. Though they do bear some resemblance to the amazing astronomy graphics you come across these days at websites like Astronomy Picture of the Day, or graphs that astronomers show to their peers, these are merely wonderful doodles made by a fellow-volunteer at the registration desk at last week’s American Astronomical Society at the Gaylord convention center at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, MD. Sorry, I have forgotten his name and I also didn’t get permission to post. (He was an undergrad or grad student but I forget where.) So I definitely need to pay him royalties if he ever tracks me down.

(He won’t get very rich though: even 12% or 37.5% or 99.99% of zero income from this blog is still zero…)

All of us volunteers and paid staff were very impressed by his doodles.

I’m sure that the reaction of a group of Freudian psychoanalysts would have been quite different.

A visit to Oakland’s Chabot Science and Amateur Telescope Making Class

Three highlights of my visit in late

December 2017:

🏵the weekly Friday-night telescope-mirror-Making workshop there …

🏵visiting some of their big, ancient refractors, one of which is the smaller cousin of the 26″ refractor at the USNO in DC …

🏵viewing some of their collection of old & modern donated telescopes, which they are endeavoring to put into service again and into the hands of interested observers …

I’ll post pix in a bit

Australian TV Bit on Me and the DC ATM Workshop


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Some very nice folks from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation came and interviewed me on film for a bit on folks who make their own telescopes to see the great August 2017 eclipse. Here is the link:

( https://www.facebook.com/abcnews.au/videos/10157157152414988/ )

Fall 2017 Hopewell Observatory Open House and Star Party November 25/26

Anybody interested in the night sky, including members of local astro clubs like NCA and NOVAC, are invited to the Fall 2017 astronomical open house and star party at Hopewell Observatory on the night of November 25 (Saturday evening and on into Sunday morning). Feel free to pass this invitation to friends, neighbors, and family and anybody else you care to notify.


We are located about 30 miles west of the Beltway on Bull Run Mountain – a ridge that overlooks Haymarket VA from an elevation of 1100 feet, near the intersection of I-66 and US-15. Detailed directions are below.


Assuming good weather, you’ll get to see planets, star clusters and nebulae and the Milky Way itself, as well as many other galaxies. If you like, you can bring a picnic dinner and a blanket or folding chairs, and/or your own telescope, if you own one and feel like carrying it. We have outside 120VAC power, if you need it for your telescope drive, but you will need your own extension cord and plug strip. If you want to camp out or otherwise stay until dawn, feel free!


Warning: While we do have bottled drinking water (and will have hot water and the makings for tea, cocoa & coffee) and we do have hand sanitizer, we do not have running water; and, our “toilet” is an outhouse of the composting variety. Plus, you may want to consider bug spray, since we are completely surrounded and protected by woods. Do check carefully for ticks when you get home. If you do apply insect repellent while visiting, please keep the spray downwind from anybody’s telescopes!!


The road up here is partly paved, and partly gravel or dirt. It’s suitable for any car except those with really low clearance, so leave your fancy sports car (if any) at home. Consider car-pooling, because we don’t have huge parking lots. We will have signs up at various places along the way to help guide you, and will try to have parking spaces denoted.


Two of our telescope mounts are permanently installed in the observatory under a roll-off roof. We have others that we roll out onto the grass in our roughly one-seventh-acre field. We have two 14-inch scopes (one hand-made Dob and one Celestron SCT), a 30-cm Wright-Newtonian entirely built by our oldest member, and a 10” f/9 reflecting scope also made by hand. The entire observatory was hand-built, and is maintained, by the labor of its founders and current members.


The drive is about an hour from DC. After parking at a cell-phone tower installation, you will need to hike about 100 yards to our observatory. Physically handicapped people, and any telescopes, can be dropped off at the observatory itself, and then the vehicle will need to go back to park near that tower. To look through some of the various telescopes you will need to climb some stairs or ladders, so keep that in mind when making your plans.


It’s not the inky-scary dark of the Chilean Atacama or the Rockies, but Hopewell Observatory is mostly surrounded by nature preserves maintained by the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy and other such agencies. Also, our Prince William and Fauquier neighbors and officials have done a pretty good job of insisting on smart lighting in the new developments around Haymarket and Gainesville, which benefits everybody. So, while there is a pretty bright eastern horizon because of DC and its VA suburbs, we can still see the Milky Way whenever it’s clear and moonless.


This will be the official night of New Moon for October 2016. Venus and Saturn will be setting soon after the Sun, which will set at 6:12 pm with real darkness (and the end of all twilight) holding off for about another hour. The sun will rise at about 7:36 the next morning. Mars will be low in the south-west at sunset, and Jupiter will rise shortly before dawn.


We should also be able to track down and examine many, many deep-sky objects, including the famous Andromeda galaxy and the Orion nebula.

You can find detailed directions and a map to the observatory below:



[Note: if you have a GPS navigation app, then you can simply ask it to take you to 3804 Bull Run Mountain Road, The Plains, VA. That will get you to step 6, below.]

(1) From the Beltway, take I-66 west about 25 miles to US 15 (Exit 40) at Haymarket. At the light at the end of the ramp, turn left/south onto US 15. (Exit is at approximately latitude 38°49’00″N, longitude 77°38’15″W.)

(2) Go 0.25 mi; at the second light turn right/west onto VA Rt. 55. There is a Sheetz gas station & convenience store at this intersection, along with a CVS, a McDonald’s, and a Walmart-anchored shopping center on the NW corner. This is a good place to stop for restrooms or supplies.

(3) After 0.7 mi on Va 55, turn right (north) onto Antioch Rd., Rt. 681. You will pass entrances for Boy Scouts’ Camp Snyder and the Winery at La Grange. (38°49’12″N, 77°39’29″W)

(4) Follow Antioch Rd. to its end (3.2 mi), then turn left (west) onto Waterfall Rd. (Rt. 601), which will become Hopewell Rd. (38°51’32″N, 77°41’10″W)

(5) After 1.0 mi, bear right onto Bull Run Mountain Rd., Rt. 629 (this is beyond Mountain Rd.). This will be the third road on the right, after Mountain Rd. and Donna Marie Ct. (38°52’00″N, 77°42’08″W) Please note that Google Earth and Google Maps show a non-existent road, actually a power line, in between Donna Marie Ct. and Bull Run Mtn. Rd.

(6) In 0.9 mi, enter the driveway on the right, with the orange pipe gate. There is a locked stone and metal gate on the left, opposite our entrance, labeled 3804 Bull Run Mountain Road. Don’t take that road – it goes to an FAA radar dome. Instead, go to the right (east). We’ll have some signs up. This is a very sharp right hand turn. (38°52’36″N, 77°41’55″W)

(7) Follow the narrow paved road up the ridge to the cell phone tower station. You should park around the tower (any side is fine) or in the grassy area before the wooden sawhorse barrier. Then you should walk the remaining hundred meters to the observatory on foot. Be sure NOT to block the right-of-way for automobiles.

(8) If you are dropping off a scope or a handicapped person, move the wooden barrier out of the way temporarily, and drive along the grassy track to the right of the station, into the woods, continuing south, through (or around) a white metal bar gate. The few parking places among the trees near our operations cabin, the small house-like structure in the woods, are reserved for Observatory members. If you are dropping off a handicapped person or a telescope, please do so and then drive your car back and park near the cell phone tower.

Please watch out for pedestrians, especially children! The observatory itself is in the clearing a short distance ahead. We do not have streetlights, and there will not be any Moon to light your way, so a flashlight is a good idea. In the operations cabin we have a supply of red translucent plastic film and tape and rubber bands so that you can filter out everything but red wavelengths on your flashlight. This will help preserve everybody’s night vision. In the cabin we also have a visitor sign-in book; a supply of hot water; the makings of hot cocoa, tea, and instant coffee; hand sanitizer; as well as paper towels, plastic cups and spoons.

The location of the observatory is approximately latitude 38°52’12″N, longitude 77°41’54″W. The drive takes about 45 minutes from the Beltway. A map to the site follows. If you get lost, you can call me on my cell phone at 202 dash 262 dash 4274.

hopewell map revised

Calculations with a Curious Cassegrain


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I continue to try to determine the foci of the apparent hyperbolic primary on the Hopewell Ealing 12inch cassegrain, which has serious optical problems.

My two given pieces of information are that the mirror has a radius of curvature (R) of 95 inches by my direct measurement, and its Schwarzschild constant of best fit,(generally indicated by the letter K)  according to FigureXP using my six sets of Couder-mask Foucault readings, is -1.112.

I prefer to use the letter p, which equals K + 1. Thus, p = -0.112. I decided R should be negative, that is, off to the left (I think), though I get the same results, essentially, if R is positive, just flipped left-and-right.

One can obtain the equation of any conic by using the formula

Y^2 – 2Rx + px^2 = 0.

When I plug in my values, I get

Y^2 + 190x -0.112x^2 = 0.

I then used ordinary completing-the-square techniques to find the values of a, b, and c when putting this equation in standard form, that is something like y^2/a^2 – x^2/b^2 = 1

Omitting some of the steps because they are a pain to type, and rounding large values on this paper to the nearest integer (but not in my calculator), I get

I got

y^2 – 0.112(x – 848)^2 = – 80540

and eventually

(x – 848)^2 / 848^2 – y^2 / 248^2 = 1

Which means that a is 848 inches, which is over 70 feet, and b is 284 inches, or almost 24 feet. Since a^2 + b^2 = c^2, then c is about 894. And the focal points are 894 inches from the center of the double-knapped hyperboloid, which is located at (848, 0), so it looks a lot like this:

cass equations

Which of the two naps of this conic section is the location of the actual mirror? I suppose it doesn’t make a big difference.

Making that assumption that means that the foci of this hyperbolic mirror are about 894 – 848 = 46 inches from the center of the primary mirror. I don’t have the exact measurement from the center of the primary to the center of the secondary, but this at least gives me a start. That measurement will need to be made very, very carefully and the location of the secondary checked in three dimensions so that the ronchi lines are as straight as possible.

It certainly does not look like the common focal point for the primary and secondary will be very far behind the front of the secondary!

Bob Bolster gave me an EXTREMELY fast spherical mirror that is about f/0.9 and has diameter 6 inches. I didn’t think at first that would be useful for doing a Hindle sphere test, since I thought that the focal point in back of the secondary would be farther away. But now I think it will probably work after all. (Excellent job as usual, Bob!) (I think)